The Crazy Way Scientists Launch Rockets From Balloons
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The Crazy Way Scientists Launch Rockets From Balloons

January 30, 2020


When you think of leaving the Earth, you probably
think of something like this: This is the Saturn V launching Apollo 11 to
the Moon. It was a chemical rocket, burning a mixture
of kerosene and liquid oxygen to get its payload — the Apollo astronauts — off the Earth. Chemical rockets are basically an exercise
in brute force, but they’re not the best way to go. They use a ton of resources, are bad for the
environment, and can kill people. What if there was a better, easier, cheaper,
less environmentally disastrous way of leaving the planet? One company, Zero2Infinity, is working on
a different method today using rockoons. Rockoons are a hybrid of a rocket and a balloon
that split the process of reaching orbit into two parts: First, the balloon rises into the
upper atmosphere, then the rocket adds the needed momentum to launch something into orbit
or to another planet. In March of 2017, Zero2Infinity, launched
a balloon to about 82,000 feet. At that point, they were above 99 percent
of the atmosphere, so they ignited a small solid rocket motor. Another company, ACRA, is using a rockoon-type
launch system for its entry into the Google Lunar X Prize competition. But if using a balloon to lift a rocket seems
like old technology, it’s because it is… The concept originated in March of 1949 for
better, high-altitude atmospheric science. Rockoons are actually a simple and ingenious
approach to spaceflight. Instead of fighting against gravity, they
turn gravity into an advantage. A small sounding rocket is suspended beneath
a large balloon made of super thin plastic — usually polyethylene — that is filled
with a small amount of helium. As the balloon rises, the atmospheric pressure
gets lower and the helium heats, allowing it to expand and fill the volume of the balloon. The balloon can then ascend to a point where
it’s above most of the atmosphere, meaning the rocket suspended beneath it is in a near
vacuum. It’s at this point the rocket fires, and
because there’s almost no atmosphere, the rocket is much more efficient. Another benefit of rockoons is that they can
accommodate all kinds of payloads. Satellites on rockets need to be folded and
housed in fairings, basically an aerodynamic case, to keep them safe from launch vibrations
and fit them on top of the rocket. With a rockoon, because the rise to launch
altitude is slow and smooth, the air doesn’t tear apart the thing you’re launching. This means the payload can be less aerodynamically
sound and still fly safely. It’s just protected by a lightweight fairing. Perhaps the most famous use of rockoons was
a series of launches done by James Van Allen in August and September of 1952. He was able to send instruments 50 miles up
to test radiation near the Earth’s poles. It was through these launches that van Allen
discovered there was significant radiation at high altitude. Follow up observations with the Explorer 1
satellite in 1958 allowed van Allen to discover the radiation belts that bear his name. Of course, mentioning the Van Allen belts
usually gets people pointing to them and crying foul saying, “we can’t go through them to
get to the Moon, so we never went to the Moon.” Well, astronauts did. I’ve got a video going into those details
on my own channel Vintage Space. And speaking of the Moon and other planets,
should Pluto be a planet again? We talk about how it could be in this video. What’s your favourite, non-traditional way
to get into space? Let us know in the comments, give us a like,
and subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Your helium balloon can defy gravity what does that tell you, can people stop calling it gravity there's no proof, it's all density.

  2. Congrats on the Tom Scott fill-in video, Amy! I ended up discovering that you have made a personal channel this year as well, very cool seeing behind the scenes of Vintage Space and also your boyfriend should start his own YouTube channel, a very good, natural narrator hehe.

  3. old technology can be really good. a smaller simpler example is the headphone Jack.
    that's super old. but since it's so good, that we get mad when apple doesn't include it.

  4. that's all fine for smaller objects, but how are you going to get something like the space shuttle into orbit at a volatility and altitude necessary for a stable orbit ? They shouldn't let college freshmen make videos on science. What did she do open the book to chapter 2 and say i know everything lets make a video.

  5. ya but what is the biggest and heaviest rockets and payloads you can launch using balloons to lift them to near space ?

  6. Jules Verne's and later Gerald Bull's way of a giant canon is my favorite way of launching cargo into space. My variation is to use steam power to launch a capsule into orbit. Using a small nuke to super heat water into steam launching a projectile into space. It was done by accident during an underground test in the late 1950s. Done on purpose it would lower the cost of launching dense loads of material into space for very little cost. A hardened bunker with a pressure relief plug, the capsule, could be launched easily and the bunker/combustion chamber is a re use able. Some good engineers could do this. Studies have been done on using steam as a launch mechanism for lunar missions. Steam is extremely powerful and is something that we should be exploring more.

  7. Not all chemical rockets are environmentally harmful – when LOX and Liquid Hydrogen (A very efficient and commonly used propellant/oxidizer combo) they form water which will eventually just rain back to the earth and join the rest of the 70% of the planet thats already water.

  8. The further you are away from the earth the effect of gravity lessens so you need less thrust to achieve orbital velocity .Seems like a very cheap way to launch things into space. You could have as many balloons as you like. Another application would be to use balloons to support a space elevator?

  9. So how would we get anything beyond a small rocket into the air, much less space, if it's carried by a balloon? It seems kind of flimsy and like it wouldn't be able to carry any large amount of weight necessary for something like a satellite or materials for a potential colony. Certainly not people to inhabit that future colony. So what would we do about that? Would we just use a bigger balloon, or groups of balloons? Like maybe a zeppelin or something?

  10. kinda makes you think NASA has been deliberately wasting money launching giant rockets from sea level… they F*ckin' knew the easy cheap way a long time ago!!! Citizens should be furious and Demanding their money back. Put NASA to shame… Step 1: Oxidize crushed aluminum cans with lye and water mixed and get enough hydrogen to fill a string of trash bags… Step 2: Make decent size sugar rocket with a bag of fertilizer and a few bags of powdered sugar, and some kitty litter… Step 3: launch telescope, (or brave person) into orbit.

  11. 85379 ft? lol look at amateur high altitude balloon videos with any lense style. Then come back to this video and go to the 0.54 second mark and tell me that’s earth from that height? You’re promoting fake cgi exploration. I want to see more amateur videos. Bored rich people that have nothing exciting left to buy, should really get into high altitude ballooning with rockets! Not to debate anything but to truly see for themselves. Sadly laws govern us from even trying to achieve heights on our own.
    However this globe/flat earth debate could eventually lead more people to try. Youtube would be littered with amateur footage of space pictures and videos. I would love to see amateur images of earth from a distance. Curious why youtube already isn’t filled with them actually.

  12. My favorite, non-traditional way of getting into space would have to be the Skylon spacecraft. Wikipedia has a great write-up of it.

  13. I have NEVER even thought about this. But this sounds like a ingenious solution. BUT how massive of a balloon would you need to send something like a Space X Falcon to 20,000 m?

  14. Earth is flat. Fisheye lens make horizon curve. Balls don't hold water. Concave surfaces hold water. Gravity never been proven. Density and buoyancy disprove Gravity

  15. I'd like to see them lift a Saturn 5 rocket with a balloon! Anyone got a spare country for the space required to make this thing?

  16. another exaggerated fish eye lens video, to make balltards happy, and what she said that she has the explanation of how the astronauts survive the Van Allen radiation belts is comical, not even the astronauts know how they did it, because they never went to the moon, this lady does not seem to get it to her head.

  17. people will look at 1:00 and say's Hey the earth is Round!! we live on a sphere! I understand why those people can't believe in a flat earth realm! too much for their little peas!

  18. There is going to be a company offering "rockoon" launches, and their spokesanimal will be a raccoon. It has to happen eventually.

  19. When I was at Space School in 1998 at Brunel University And we had to launch 🚀 Model Rockets I had Idea 💡 of trying to Launch rocket from weather type Balloon 🚀 🎈

  20. Actually i think about it after the chandrayan 2 launch and i thought that I'm the only one who think about it then i suddenly feel like a scientist who invent something . But after saw your video my dreams breaks up

  21. Its a cheapest way of launching a rocket into space using a balloon. When it reach the outer atmosphere, then the rocket is release saving enough fuel. Or instead using rocket fuel maybe used the solar sail or kite.

  22. Non-traditional way to get to space? How about a mother ship carrier that's some kind of gigantic zeppelin which acts as an aircraft carrier does to planes insomuch that it skims the outermost parts of the atmostphere and acts as a research vessel and docking bay for space vehicles? That would be kind of neat.

  23. A balloon goes up but that's not how you get into orbit. even if you launch from a high altitude you still lack the horizontal velocity to attain orbit

  24. I can show you that every single point you made in this video is incorrect. The earth is not a spinning globe. If you believe it is, this is what you believe. (Link below)

  25. I am using a Rockoon to get daredevil Mad Mike Hughes up to the Karmon Line. This is so he can determine if the Earth is flat or a globe. A television show will tell the story next year. It is called "Home made astronauts."

  26. lol I'm so glad there's a follow-up video about the Van Allen belt(s). I need to form an argument to counter my coworkers absurd beliefs that "electronics can't handle it" not even the primitive electronics of the Apollo era. There's a reason why "radiation hardened" IC's are often based on older chips.

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